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Heroin nightmare: Enabling and denial

Police chief: Town was hit with 'whispers about young people on heroin'

FALMOUTH, Maine – The McCarthys hardly ever talked about the boys' drug use.

When David was fired from a summer job on a neighbor's lobster boat, the neighbor told Kevin, "Look, it's not my place, but I think there's something going on with drugs." Kevin asked the neighbor to give David another chance; the neighbor refused.

"We just pretended they were going to be all right," Kevin said. "They were sending signals saying 'help' all the time, and we didn't act."

HOW DAVID DIED

From the countryside of New England to the cities of the Midwest, the most deadly epidemic of heroin use in half a century is tearing at the fabric of American life.

Part 1: David McCarthy's story

Part 2: 'The angel of death'

Part 3: Starting with Oxys

Part 4: 'He decided not to be'

Part 5: Enabling and denial

Part 6: Michael's story

Part 7: No more secrets

He found needles up at the ski house. He sometimes saw tracks on David's arms.

"I thought I knew a lot of things, but I didn't," Kevin said. "You're in a community and you want to protect your child, but you also want your child to succeed. It's a problem a lot of people in my social sphere don't want to acknowledge."

Around town, there have been whispers about young people on heroin, but the topic is not something that people discuss openly. "There's a lot of families out here that would never, ever admit there's a heroin problem," said Famouth Police Chief Ed Tolan, the police chief.

Gary Palman, the father of David's friend John, is a pain management doctor who spent two decades writing thousands of prescriptions for the same opiate pills that teens in town were abusing.

"We flooded the streets with these medications," he said. "It took us years to realize opiate medications can have profound abnormalities for society."

Gary Palman said he felt so bad that he left his specialty and now practices anesthesiology. He wishes his former colleagues in pain management would recognize an obligation "to objectively see if a drug is working, and if it isn't, to take it away."

It remains easier to hide heroin's impact in a place such as Falmouth than in a big city. Young people lose jobs, drop out of college, get evicted from apartments, but "their parents help them out," Tolan said.

Three local addicts described how their parents stepped in to prevent the state from taking their young children away. In Falmouth, even after a young addict intentionally set his parents' house ablaze, the parents wouldn't let him talk to police.

"Even though he burned their house down," the chief said, still amazed months later.

HOW DAVID DIED: Read part 6 of the series

"People we know always looked away when heroin was mentioned because it's associated with the ghetto and the underclass," David's mother recalled. "In these affluent communities, achievement and success are paramount. If you don't achieve, it's 'you had all these advantages and didn't do anything with it.' There's not a lot of tolerance of kids who are different. If you're not cut from that cloth, it's a hard place, so you find friends who are like you, and you find huge relief in leaving the world."'

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